Every NFL season, head coaches are put to the test – put on a hot seat, if you will – to see if they can change their franchise. While the ultimate goal is to hoist a Lombardi Trophy, the realistic approach is to be better than last year.
With the 2019 season rapidly approaching, coaches and players can only hope for a better year. Last season, eight coaches were fired after down seasons with the organization. The hope is the new man in charge can change the culture.
But several coaches could be out the door after failing to live up to expectations. The hot seat could start to boil or simmer based off their success this year. Right now, maybe 15 coaches are safe from actually losing their job while the other 17 could be freshening their resume come January.
With teams hoping to bounce back and coaches looking to be a part of the long-term plan, here are our picks for the coaches on the hot seat heading into the regular season.
10. Freddie Kitchens, Cleveland Browns
It’s probably weird a first-year head coach is already on the hot seat, but Freddie Kitchens is different. Following his success as the interim offensive coordinator, John Dorsey elected to retain the 39-year-old and make him in charge of the Cleveland Browns. He then went out and made the team look like contenders. He did this with the additions of Sheldon Richardson, Kareem Hunt, Greedy Williams, Mack Wilson and All-Pro wideout Odell Beckham Jr.
The Browns offense was one of the top units under the direction of Kitchens, who helped lead the team for a 7-8-1 season in 2018. With the new acquisitions, the Browns are expected to compete for not just an AFC North title, but also a Super Bowl. With a balanced offense led by Baker Mayfield and a defense with the rising sensation Myles Garrett, expectations are high this season.
This makes Kitchens a liability if the team fails to pick up wins. If the Browns finish with a sub .500 record, who’s to blame besides the play calling? Barring injuries and the progression of young stars, this is one of the more exciting franchises in football.
For now, he’s safe. That could change in a season if Dorsey isn’t patient and wants to bring home a championship soon.
9. Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings
It will be a shocker if the Vikings part ways with Zimmer following the season. While he could retire or ask to leave the team, it just doesn’t seem likely they would part ways with a coach who has had success.
Expectations were high for Minnesota last season with the addition of quarterback Kirk Cousins. The team was less than a year removed from the NFC Championship game and had signed a majority of their key stars to long-term contracts. Cousins, however, underwhelmed in critical games, the offensive line was atrocious, and the team finished 8-7-1, failing to make the postseason.
Since arriving in Minneapolis, Zimmer has only suffered one losing season. That was in his first year with an underachieving staff. Since then, the Vikings have made the postseason twice and finished with eight-plus wins each year. Cousins should be on a short leash since the team improved the offensive line, but Zimmer’s status should be safe right now. If Rick Spielman is fired, anything can happen.
Just stop drafting cornerbacks in the first round, and Zimmer should at least have one more year before the organization thinks of making a move.
8. Bill O’Brien, Houston Texans
Bill O’Brien is like an all-you-can-eat buffet; you know he’s terrible for you, but you’re probably going back until you explode. Even as an average coach, he’s outlasted a pair of general managers and fallen into the grace of the McNair family.
On record alone, O’Brien has the credentials to be a head coach in the league. In five years, he’s only had one losing season where everyone that mattered was injured at some point. He’s also taken Houston to the postseason three times as the representative for the AFC South.
Once in the postseason, Houston has struggled to make an impact with their only win coming against a Connor Cook lead Raiders. With Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins leading the offense, Houston should be one of the league’s highest-scoring teams. O’Brien, however, has failed to address the offensive line woes and allowed key players to walk in free agency.
Houston has to be sickly horrendous while fully healthy for O’Brien to be canned. Even then, that might not be enough to change the culture down at NRG Drive.